Game 4 Preview: UConn

Saturday, Sept. 21 • 8 p.m. ET • Storrs, Conn. • Rentschler Field (40,000)
ABC • Announcers: Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake
Series: Michigan leads, 1-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 4, 2010: Michigan 30, Connecticut 10

UConn Vitals
0-2 overall, 0-0 American Athletic
Head coach: Paul Pasqualoni
     Career: 151-92-1 (22nd year)
     at UConn: 5-16 (3rd year)
Offense: Spread-ish, or I-formation
     Rush: Lyle McCombs (36-129 yards, 1 TD)
     Pass: Chandler Whitmer (45-74, 555 yards, 3 TDs)
     Rec.: Shakim Phillips (15-255 yards, 3 TDs)
Defense: 4-3 or 3-4
     Tackles: Yawin Smallwood (30 tackles)
     Int: Taylor Mack (1-0 yards) and Obi Melifonwu (1-0 yards)
When Michigan has the ball
What can I say, last week in this spot, we posted an animated gif. Obviously, I may have been slightly over-confident of Michigan's ability to move the ball efficiently and score points against a wildly inferior opponent. But turnovers and an inconsistent running game hamstrung Michigan's high-powered offense.

If Michigan has any hopes of getting back on track, it must do so quickly in this game. A slow start will only strengthen UConn's defense. Big plays are one thing. But long, demoralizing drives...which feature a power run attack will be the key to Michigan's success tomorrow night.

I think Devin, while very capable of doing big things, needs to get some support from the running game. I know Al Borges likes Devin's ability to make big plays, but through 3 games this season, I feel like Gardner is being asked to do too much. Hence why he's thrown 7 touchdowns, but also 6 interceptions. His yards per attempt is 9, which is pretty good, but it should be higher. It's not that he's struggling as a passer, actually far from it. But on some plays, when the pocket collapses, and/or he scrambles into a pass rush, Devin tends to panic when he should just fall down and take the sack.

There's been talk of some possible personnel shake up along the OL. I say whatever it takes to get the running game jump-started, go for it. Right now, Devin leads the team in rushing with 237 yards. Fitz is next with only 199. In terms of being what we were told is a pro-style offense, I'm not convinced we are one. Especially not until I see a guard pull with some effectiveness.

Michigan will not have a better opponent on the remaining schedule to get back up off the mat and regain some confidence. UConn is not very good at defense. Through 2 games against Towson and Maryland, they've given up an average of 32.5 ppg. Teams seem to have success both running and passing, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per passing attempt. And when teams get inside the UConn redzone, they're 7 for 7.

UConn has yet to tally a single sack through 2 games.

In terms of who to watch out for...middle-linebacker Yawin Smallwood is the leader of the UConn defense. He'll be asked to pretty much everything from shadow Gardner to middle pass coverage to contain the edges on sweeps. He's everywhere.

When UConn has the ball
For as unimpressive as UConn's defense is, their offense is worse. There's really no way to sugar-coat this. If UConn is scoring points, be very worried. Akron is one thing. I can let it slide because Michigan's turnovers kept them in the game and maybe that game was just a fluke. And if it was, then I'm okay with that. But if UConn is moving the ball consistently and getting first downs, which they're only 29% on 3rd downs so far this year, then I may start to freak out about what going on with Mattison's men.

Much like what we saw against Central Michigan, that's what I expect to see tomorrow.

UConn runs a spread-ish offense which is to say they line up in the shotgun most of the time. MGoAce's FFFF:
UConn operated either from the gun or an ace set; no fullback got a snap that I saw (I charted until Maryland took a 19-point lead midway through the fourth quarter). They had one snap from what Madden/NCAA deem the "pro" set—the QB under center with two backs split behind him.
Whitmer has a terrible habit of making late throws to the outside, which is how he tossed one of his interceptions, and a couple more of those could've been picks as well. He makes poor decisions under pressure, which is especially troublesome since the offensive line is allowing five(!) sacks per game, 121st in the country. This has caused him to develop a bad case of happy feet; he took a safety when he sensed that his right tackle was going to get beat off the edge, ran back into the end zone—allowing the DE to lose the RT easily—and threw an obvious intentional grounding. The snap originated at the 9-yard line. He was under center. This is... not good.
Paging Frank Clark to the backfield. Frank Clark, to the backfield please.

What made the Notre Dame and Akron offensesesesss so effective was the short passing game. Three-step drops and slant routes, and then the occasional wide-open dude in the middle of the field plagued Michigan's defense the last 2 weeks. Yeah, if they could go ahead and stop giving up those medium-to-large chunks of yards between the redzones, that'd be great. I can assure you UConn has watched those game tapes and will try to do the same tomorrow. That, essentially, is what the UConn spread offense is all about.
Relevant links from sites we trust
Blog folk
Michigan is not as bad as they showed last week, and if Devin Gardner can keep his turnovers down to one there won't be enough resistance on UConn's part to keep Michigan out of the endzone much.

On defense there will be some irritating drives as UConn smallballs its way downfield, like every opponent has this year. That's the nature of the passing spread: it's pretty good between the 20s even if you're physically overmatched. UConn will move the ball erratically, putting together a couple of good drives that score and a couple more that peter out. 
Maize & Go Blue:
The nation will be watching to see just how Michigan responds from the Akron letdown. Everybody wants to know if this team is as good as it looked in the first two weeks or if those were just a mirage. A bye week follows, so Michigan will play with a chip on its shoulder and win convincingly.
Maize & Brew:
Another game, another terrible opponent. The team and staff really need to knock this one out of the park if they want to spark belief that a Big Ten Championship run is really within their grasp. Connecticut is bad in almost every way imaginable, ranking 103rd in points scored and 95th in points against; Michigan should win and win handily. It's up to Gardner to play a smooth game while hoping that the two fronts come more prepared than they were a week ago.
Media folk
ABC somehow picked this for its prime-time slot, perhaps thinking it was a basketball game. It’s the first trip for the young Wolverines, and Hoke’s primary concern is making sure they all wrote their names on the waistband of their pajamas. Also, the pregame meal has been changed from doughnuts to deep-fried rusty nails. Michigan 37-13
The Wolverines were 2-2 in 2011, Hoke's first year, and 2-4 last season. Michigan, ranked No. 15 and 3-0, will play at winless Connecticut on Saturday night in its first road game of the year.
"Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers," Hoke said about Michigan’s road woes.
Technically, that’s three answers. But he was right when he said that turnovers have plagued the Wolverines on the road. He can't explain why road games have been punctuated by mistakes.
Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9

Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17
I think overall Michigan shores up a lot of what went wrong last week against Akron. When you go back and look at that game again, it was really just turnovers and a small handful of bad defensive plays that kept that game from being blown wide open once the score was 21-10 in favor of Michigan.

UConn offers Michigan a chance to right the ship before B1G play starts on October 5th when Minnesota comes to town following the bye week. The last thing Michigan wants is to have 2 weeks to feel the way they felt after the Akron game...or worse.

I think there could be a certain "revenge factor" at play tomorrow as well. I can't say with any certainty, but I suspect Michigan won't be overlooking any opponents on the schedule, regardless of how bad they are.

A satisfying 30-40 point victory would be nice, but I don't expect a massive blowout. What I do expect is Michigan to play sharp, not turn the ball over, get at least 100 yards from Fitz and keep UConn's 3rd down percentage at 29% or below. Also, Michigan's turnover margin is -2...that must change.

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• Fitz is making use of running lanes.
• Devin is not tossing the ball up into the air resulting in an immediate 6 points for the other guys.
• The D-line, especially Frank Clark, is getting a decent rush.

Commence panic if...
• Turnovers, bro.
• UConn is converting on 3rd and long.
• Anything reminds you of Akron.

Michigan 42 UConn 8

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